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Chelsea Cutler Owns The Moment At Packed Marathon Music Works

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Chelsea Cutler, the former college soccer player who put her athletic path on hold to pursue her exploding music career, proved that the gamble paid off in spades with a memorable turn at Marathon Music Works on Wednesday night.

JLM09272Chelsea Cutler encourages the audience to sing along at Marathon Music Works (Photo credit: Jess Maples)

She just released her major-label debut album “How To Be Human” in January, yet she already has legions of die-hard, emotionally-invested fans. She’s built this base over a few years of independent releases and lots of touring. She’s played festivals all over the country (including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and this year’s upcoming Coachella, amongst many more), has opened for artists like Quinn XCII and Halsey, has a successful collaborative EP with fellow pop artist Jeremy Zucker, and signed with Republic Records in late 2019. She’s made plenty of the right moves, and if her other shows are anything like her most recent Nashville set, her on-stage performances have more than justified the opportunities.

Admittedly, I had never really listened to her music before the show. If I would have heard one of her songs in passing without really paying attention to what was going on, there’s a chance I may have written it off as basic pop music and wouldn’t have thought too strongly about it. Let me be very clear, though: after seeing her performance, I can say with full confidence that there is nothing basic about what she brings to the table.

Flanked by drummer Gavin Chops and keyboardist J.T. Becker, she bounced around the stage and dedicated 110% of her effort and love to the performance for the entire 90-minute set. The fans loudly and enthusiastically gave that love right back to her, making for a special performance that made me feel like I was watching an artist on the verge of superstardom.

JLM08779(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

Her set began with one of the more interesting video packages I’ve seen in some time, a personalized text crawl welcoming the Nashville crowd while musing on recently turning 23 and calling the show “a safe space to be unapologetically human.” A clip of Seth Meyers introducing her kicked off the opening song “Are You Listening,” an absolute earworm. She made it apparent from the outset that if you didn’t want to pay attention to her show, she would just take it from you anyway with her natural showmanship, all-inclusive messages to the crowd, and expert command of the stage.

JLM09437(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

By the third song, “Cold Showers,” she was already pouring a bottle of water over her head, which likely served in equal parts as a nod to the title as well as an already-needed cool down. But she wasn’t the only one one who was on fire all night; Chops earned his nickname with a handful of tantalizing drum breaks throughout the evening. Meanwhile Becker consistently filled in the gaps and made the show sound infinitely fuller. “Crazier Things,” the last non-bonus track from her latest record, was a highlight of her set. An excellent slow-build that sounded massive live, it was one of many songs that felt like there were way more than three people on stage.

JLM09808(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

Two other standouts, “NJ” and “Sad Tonight,” closed the show’s first half, as the band left the stage for two songs while Cutler walked to a piano. At the keys, she played “I Was in Heaven” and “you were good to me,” the second of which being one of her collaborations with Zucker and her most streamed song on Spotify with over 100 million streams. In these songs, she was able to showcase the raw emotion and beauty in her voice with the stripped-back setting. As good as she was with the bells and whistles of the band and her electronic samples, her performances here proved that she’s incredibly talented even if you took all of that away.

After bringing her band up for five more songs, she ended the show with a three-song encore, which included “Lucky,” a collaboration with opener Alexander 23, a cover of The Killers‘ iconic hit “Mr. Brightside,” and a set-closing rendition of her 2017 breakthrough single “Your Shirt.” On the finale, Chops played perhaps his most impressive solo of the night before leaping over his drum kit at the beginning of the song. The audience passionately sang along to a fitting closer, capping a surprisingly-excellent set.

JLM00027(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

Admittedly, Cutler’s music isn’t for everybody, though. Her voice has some similar inflections to Halsey’s, and people who find the latter to be on the annoying side would probably struggle to get into her recorded music. She is fully and unmistakably a pop artist, and she incorporates a lot of electronic sounds into her songs. For me, however, she does this in a much more palatable and interesting way than the artist she once opened for. Her production skills are top-tier, and her personable, humble on-stage demeanor feels authentic and relatable. It’s clear that she won’t be fading from the spotlight any time soon, so check out her Spotify to decide for yourself. If you’re a fan, you can follow her on Instagram here. For all of our pictures from the evening, check out our photo album on Facebook.

Opener 1: X Lovers

JLM08052(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

This Northern California drum-and-vocals pop duo oozed charisma from the second they walked out to a recording of “We’re Off To See The Wizard.” Despite only playing a five-song, 20-minute set, they made an impression on the Nashville crowd. Lauding the city as one of his favorites in the world, singer/guitarist London Jackson delivered the kind of back beat, feel-good pop that fans of Andy Grammer or Jon Bellion might enjoy. A wildly-unexpected cover of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” and a performance of their song “Sweatshirt,” which Jackson introduced as a love letter to his mother, were the highlights of a set that left me wanting to hear more. Follow them on Instagram here.

 

Opener 2: Alexander 23

JLM08415(Photo credit: Jess Maples)

While Alexander 23 may not have had the same charisma or level of crowd interaction that the previous opener displayed, he showed off impressive vocal control and a range of talents. While his choice of down-tempo songs to start his set made it hard for me as a new listener to latch on early, his expert cover choices (including a tease of a stripped-back renditions Miley Cyrus‘ “Party in the U.S.A.” and a fully-nostalgic cover of Tears for Fears‘ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World“) reeled me right back in. While he may have had the less overall-engaging performance, I would probably be more likely to listen to his music while trying to relax or go to sleep than anyone else I heard on Wednesday. With some more knowledge of his catalog, this might have been a much more memorable performance. You can follow his Instagram here.

JLM08462Alexander 23’s touring drummer Tyler Matte (Photo credit: Jess Maples)

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